Forest Road 079 between Strawberry Reservoir and Spanish Fork, Utah, shot like a straight streak of lightning across the map.
I knew better. I’d been down this road before. But it seemed even steeper now.
Krystal and I stood over the hood of my truck, looking at the map, then up the gravelly mountain road, and back to the map again. The route would save us many miles, and more importantly, lots of gas money. On the other hand, my fourteen-year-old, four cylinder, two-hundred-thousand-mile-weathered Tacoma was hauling virtually everything we owned – 1200 extra pounds – and a 1969 Scotsman travel-trailer. And Krystal’s car was essentially a Korean-made golf cart with an aerodynamic covering.
Three modified 4×4 trucks, looking like a sequence from Mad Max, came rumbling down the mountainside, spraying us with desert dust.
“We can go a little ways, see how it is,” I offered weakly.
“Uh-uh,” said Krystal, with a resolute gaze. “If we take this road, we’re committed to it.”
That’s what I love about K: She lets me lead, but when I decide we’re going to do something insanely suicidal and then get squeamish about it, she stands beside me and forces me to follow through.
We were fleeing Denver before the winter snows, but not before years of trying. I’d planned to leave every September for the last five years, but could never make enough money. That’s the new American Dream: Can I make enough to just follow through with the most basic, rudimentary skeleton of the life I want?
The original American Dream was laid out by Theodore Roosevelt – a progressive Republican – in 1912: “We stand for a living wage … a standard high enough to make morality possible, to provide for education and recreation, to care for immature members of the family, to maintain the family during periods of sickness, and to permit reasonable saving for old age.”
Teddy advanced that vision, but the latter Roosevelt – Theodore’s fifth cousin, Franklin Delano – put us firmly on this path. America prospered wildly under the progressive policies, becoming the wealthiest nation the world had ever known.
But that was then. Today is thirty-plus years into the conservative revolution. Trickle-down economics, started by Reagan and followed by every president since (yes, even the supposedly Marxist Barack Obama), has hollowed out the middle class and transformed us from a hey, neighbor, need a hand? society, into a hey, neighbor, are you using your right leg – because if you fall down, I’ll gnaw it off to get ahead! society.
You can’t sit around waiting for the dream to be restored before you live your life — and I’ve always wanted to live on California’s Central Coast. But unemployment is like 13% out there! Your truck is fourteen years old! What about your healthcare? You’ll end up homeless and destitute and alone and cold and dead and– Yadda yadda yadda. Nothing is going to get better by being afraid to live the life you want.
The truck and the trailer and the golf cart made it over the mountains, and across the desert, and over more mountains, and even through Bakersfield at 101 degrees. Then I answered the first ad I saw in the first newspaper I read, and now I’m writing you this column, the first of what I hope to be many. I’ve been here fourteen days. I’m not dead yet.
I’m sort of an apocalyptic progressive, and for good reason: America has been overthrown internally, by folks who are hostile to the American Dream. So my instinct was to name this column accordingly, something like From Behind Enemy Lines. But IP publisher Sandra Marshall says, “I’d like a positive spin,” and I don’t think that’s a bad idea. There’s certainly enough gloom to go around.
Instead I’ll call this column Living The American Dream. We’ll take a look at what made America prosperous and free, and see if we can’t retrace those steps together.
It’ll be a long, hard road. But it’s possible. Besides, like it or not, prepared or not, that’s the road ahead of us.
May as well try to live the dream.